Biography of Sheikh Assim al-Hakeem (Interview 2010)
Sheikh Assim bin Luqman al-Hakeem was born in 1962 in the city of Al-Khobar, which lies in the east of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was raised there until the age of 12 before he and his family moved to the Western Province of Saudi Arabia, to the city of Jeddah. The city of Jeddah is the gateway to the two Holy Mosques, with Makkah being about 85-90 kilometers away and Madinah, where the Mosque of the Prophet salla Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam is located, being 400 kilometers away. Sheikh Assim was there with Huda TV at the channel’s initial stages and he was also the first Sheikh of Ask Huda. He used to be an Imam in Jeddah before but since this is a kind of job that requires dedication and devotion, time does not permit him to be a full-time Imam now, so he only delivers the Friday Sermon.
Sheikh Assim grew up in Al-Khobar like, as he says, “any other kid down the block”; going to school, having friends, having the things kids want to play with and to enjoy themselves. Now, times have changed for him dramatically and drastically because, he says, as we grow up, we have so many obligations that we have to fulfill that we wish that there were 48 hours in a day instead of just 24. We feel that time is always a problem for us. When we are young, the only thing we think about is playing and enjoying ourselves, i.e., killing time. This is all what the youth think about; just wasting time, playing cards, going around the streets, riding bikes, watching movies, listening to music, and doing anything to fill up their time. And usually, the Shaitan drives people to do something and waste their time in something that is not useful. So, this has changed for the Sheikh, as an individual, drastically. And he thinks that it is the same thing with all the youth; it is an ongoing process.
With regards to his university life, the Sheikh returned to the Eastern Province, after finishing his high school in 1980, to attend one of the most prominent universities in Saudi Arabia, the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals. He says that this was a blessing and a curse at the same time. His English, at the time, was adequate. This helped him pass the level test, which allowed him to skip a whole year, which is the orientation year. And this, he feels, was a blessing as well as a curse because he was doing the freshman year while his friends were doing the orientation year. This made him go easy and take his studies lightly. So he spent his time during this year at the university going to the beach, playing sports, etc. This was a fun time for him because while everybody was studying and working hard, all he was doing was sleeping and playing sports. But when the second semester came, he became a little depressed because he felt that this could not go on. He hadn’t gotten good grades. So, he made his decision, quit the university and went back to Jeddah, the Western Province.
In Jeddah, he got a job, which was a very prominent job that paid a lot of money at the time. They gave him a car and a good salary. He worked at this job for about a year or so. Then, a twist came in his life when he once had to call one of his friend’s house and his mother answered the phone. She asked him who he was and he gave her his name. But he didn’t know her, as the custom is in Islam is that men don’t talk unnecessarily to women. She said, “You are my son’s friend, right?” He said yes. She said, “Son, until when are you going to stay like this; a punk?” The Sheikh was shocked by this. She continued by saying, “You can’t live like this, without going to school.” He told her that he was working. She said, “No, no, you have to go back to school.” So the Sheikh agreed but pointed out that the semester had already started 4 weeks ago. She told him not to worry, that she knew people and that she would pull a few strings and that the next morning he should go to the university with her son. The Sheikh hung up, feeling a little skeptical about the whole thing. The following morning, his friend called and they went to the university together. He was still skeptical but when he went to the registration office, he found a letter there from the Minister of Education, with his name on it! When he was told of the various courses that the university had to offer, the Sheikh chose to study English Literature because he thought it would be an easy subject. He did very well in his studies, ranked No.1 in the university in the first semester, got an Honor’s Certificate and a monetary prize. He finished university with a Major in Linguistics.
What the Sheikh never imagined was that he would use this English language to preach Islam. He comes from a Westernized family who spoke with each other in English while growing up. They were so Westernized that it was almost in their blood, as if they were born and raised abroad. The Sheikh considered that this was an inferiority complex. When he was a teacher, teaching in public high schools (for about 15 years), it had become a rumor among the kids that Mr. Assim is married to an American lady and that he has a Green Card. In reality, he had never been to America except only for about 4 weeks in his life. This was the rumor apparently just because he spoke the language. The Sheikh considers it a blessing from Allah ‘azza wa jal and he values this blessing. He never thought, not even in his wildest dreams that he would use it to propagate Islam, to propagate what he believes in.
Before starting to preach Islam in English, the Sheikh had started to preach Islam in Arabic in 1989. It all started when the Imam of the Masjid, close to where he lived, left the job because he was not a Saudi. The people in the neighborhood started looking for someone to give the Friday Sermon. Nobody volunteered. So they chose the Sheikh because he was a teacher, prayed 5 times a day and looked like a committed Muslim. He was hesitant because, as he said, he didn’t feel like he had sufficient knowledge for it. But the people said that he was the only one. So the Sheikh sought the Support of Allah, prepared the Friday Sermon and delivered it. And because he was a teacher, it wasn’t that scary for him. So he delivered the speech and led the prayer. The people liked it and made his position permanent. This ignited in him the urge to seek knowledge because every Friday he had to teach people something that is beneficial to them. He could not go unprepared. That meant that he had to do his research, had to study and prepare something that is useful and deliver it in less than 20 minutes.
The journey to preaching Islam in English started when the Sheikh presented a program in Arabic for the famous channel ‘Iqra’’. He did the program with Sheikh Sa’eed Sha’lan, one of the prominent Sheikhs of our time, who was also one of his own Sheikhs. A year or two into this and the Sheikh received a request to prepare a program in English for Saudi National TV, 2nd Channel. He did this program every week for 3 years until he completed it. And Alhamdulillah, it was a successful program. The Sheikh also did a few programs for Al-Majd back when it had an English channel (this channel was aired only for one year after which it didn’t continue). And since then, as the Sheikh puts it, people have been very generous and have thought good of him and have been inviting him to do various programs every now and then.
While talking about his daily schedule, the Sheikh says that he does not feel that he really dedicates a lot of his time for Da’wah. However, he believes that every Muslim’s life should be devoted for Da’wah. Even when we are with our family it could be Da’wah; even when we are at work, it could be Da’wah. The Sheikh has a daytime job as the General Manager of Human Resources, Public Relations and Legal Affairs in a company that deals with earth-moving and rock-cutting. This is a specialized and a very reputable company in Jeddah, growing rapidly and the employees are all professionals. The Sheikh works between 8-9 hours a day. He also goes to the gym for an hour and a half about 4 days a week. The Sheikh admits that he used to be fitter than this because he used to play 7 days a week for 2-3 hours each day. He used to play professional squash and has taken part in two tournaments in squash in the Western Province. He also played professional table tennis and badminton.
Continuing his daily routine, he says that after gym, he hits the showers, has his meal after returning home and prepares, between Maghrib and ‘Isha, for his class that he gives in the Masjid after ‘Isha prayer. In his classes, the Sheikh has given lectures on different books, the current one being Sahih al-Bukhari, which he explains in Arabic. After that, he goes back home and sits and spends time with his kids and his wives. When being commented on his schedule, that it seems quite busy, the Sheikh says that he feels that it’s not busy because he is still not doing enough. He wishes that he can spend more time with his kids and with his mother. He wishes that he could do other things that he wants to and admits that he doesn’t even spend time with friends. He says that he spends around 95% of his time with his wives and kids. He feels that this is his safe haven and that this is where he finds himself. Even so, he says that they still demand more and more. An example of this is when many brothers and sisters in distress frequently call the Sheikh, asking questions and seeking advice, and the time this takes adds up to a total of 2-3 hours a day. So whenever the phone rings, one of his daughters sometimes starts making faces at him, saying, “Turn it off! Turn it off! We want to sit with you.” And whenever he opens his laptop to answer ‘Ask Huda’s’ questions and e-mails, she says, “Again? Come on, give us time.” But in the end, it is something that we all have to learn to balance.
The Sheikh is a frequent traveler, and has done some Da’wah work in places such as India and the UK. He is asked about what the experience was like, and about his feelings when he reflects back and thinks about how he was being prepared by Allah to travel to these places and engage in Da’wah work there later in his life, without having realized it at the time that he was getting ready for such great work. The Sheikh comments that he can say in confidence that not one single day passes without him realizing the blessings of Allah on him. He says that he always attributes whatever success he has in his life to Allah the Almighty, Who prepared him and blessed him with the knowledge and with what people attribute to him as wisdom, even though the Sheikh doesn’t see it as wisdom. He enjoys what he is. He doesn’t have any regrets. It is, as he says, the Grace of Allah ‘azza wa jall upon him. Coming back to his experience of his Da’wah work in India, he says that it was overwhelming and mind-blowing. He was invited by Dr. Zakir Naik in December 2007 to participate in the Peace Conference. There, the Sheikh got to meet several scholars and stay with them for about 10 days, which he says was the experience of his life. Being there with Sheikh Jafir Idrees was an experience in and of itself. Add to that ‘Abdur-Raheem Green, Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Hussein Ye, Salim al-‘Amry, Yasir Fazaga, Yusuf Estes (who was staying in a different hotel), and many others. Just being with these great Scholars and Da’eeah, having lunch and dinner with them, and seeing how small he was, compared to these mountains, was a mind-blowing experience, which he says he enjoyed fully. The Sheikh also travels regularly to the UK. He says that the brothers there are very generous and that they keep on calling him to give them lectures and lessons. He says that he really sees Islam there. He sees people in the midst of all this Kufr holding fast to their Deen, always smiling, not violent but tolerant and they love ‘love’ for everyone. This is also a great experience for him.
The Sheikh is asked about what he thinks about the role of the media, that he has been part of for quite a while, in Da’wah. Does he think that this is something that the preachers should look forward to and that it is the ‘real Da’wah’? He responds by saying that he doesn’t think that it is the ‘real Da’wah’ but it is a big portion of it. He gives an example of how he could spend the time that he is now spending in front of the cameras, in the masjid, preaching to a 100 or 200 people. Through the programs on TV, he could preach to not less than 200-300 thousand people, listening to what he has to say. So the impact and the end result is far greater than doing it in the masjid. Through videos and programs we get quantity, to which we can add, with the Grace of Allah, some quality. But in the masjid we get quality, where we focus on certain individuals. And the Sheikh believes that it is the Muslim’s obligation to support such media channels. If any Muslim wants great reward, he can support such authentic Islamic channels and programs, by sponsoring an episode or several episodes, or sponsoring a program for a year and so on. He believes that there are many businessmen and enthusiasts who have the money and are willing to use it in this cause. He encourages such people to come forward and approach the Management Teams of such channels, which is easily possible through the social media such as e-mail. By doing this, they can be part of the reward in sha Allah.
When asked to mention one blessing that he thinks was very special in all the years of spreading the message of Islam, he says that he cannot count the numerous Blessings of Allah ‘azza wa jall upon him. However, one of the greatest blessings for him is when he talks on the phone for 40-50 minutes to a sister in distress, who cries, weeps and complains about her husband and he reconciles between them, and the sister later sends him a message saying, “JazakAllahu khairan, things are okay now by the Grace of Allah and, after that, because of you.”
May Allah subhanahu wa ta’aala continue to bless our Sheikh and grant him success both in this life and the Hereafter!